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Irene Fernandez (right) and three students from the LEAD program.

Irene Fernando (right) with three of her charges--students in the 2005 Carlson School LEAD program.

Opening doors for students of diverse backgrounds

By Pauline Oo

Published on July 19, 2005

In the summer of 2002, Irene Fernando, a bright 16-year-old of Filipino heritage, left Los Angeles to attend the month-long Leadership Education and Development (LEAD) Summer Business Institute at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. It was her first solo trip on an airplane and the longest she had ever been away from her large family.

Today, at 19, Fernando is a junior at the Carlson School, thrilled to be at the University of Minnesota and in the Twin Cities, and is actively engaged in a wide range of student organizations on campus.

"LEAD gives people an outlet to channel their capabilities, and it incites growth and exploration, not only in the business world but in yourself," says Fernando, a marketing major. "After LEAD, I went home and was much more energized, had better self esteem, and knew a lot more about the business world."

LEAD is one of many ways the University of Minnesota works to bring students of diverse backgrounds on campus in the hope they might make the University their college of choice.

"LEAD gives people an outlet to channel their capabilities, and it incites growth and exploration, not only in the business world but in yourself," says Fernando, a marketing major.

Since its inception in 1993, the Carlson School's LEAD program has seen 27 of its alumni earn bachelor degrees from the University of Minnesota--with 23 being Carlson School graduates. This fall, 21 former LEAD students, including 11 from last year's program, are enrolled at Carlson.

"Many of these students have never visited Minnesota, but once they do, they're hooked," says Mary Maus Kosir, assistant dean and director of the Carlson School's undergraduate program. "Many then choose the Carlson School for their degree and stay here, making it a brain gain for Minnesota."

Like those who came before her, Fernando is leaving her mark at the University and in the business community. Last week, she added yet another feather to her cap: LEAD resident advisor. Through July 30, Fernando will play mother hen to 32 new LEAD recruits.

This August she will start an internship at Minneapolis-based Supervalu, a Fortune 500 company and a sponsor of the LEAD program along with 3M and General Mills. "A lot of things have definitely spun off the program for me," says Fernando. "I wouldn't have come to Minnesota if it weren't for LEAD."

The LEAD program introduces talented students from underrepresented communities across the United States (selected on the basis of national test scores and recommendations from their high school teachers and counselors) to business-related studies and careers. The Carlson School is one of 12 business schools nationwide that offer the program. The others include Cornell, Duke, and Stanford universities.

In addition to helping recruit more students with diverse backgrounds to the University, the program is also helping to make the corporate world more diverse. This year, students in the program will visit several Supervalu grocery stores, tour a 3M electronics plant in New Ulm, and help develop a new product for General Mills. They will also attend courses taught by Carlson faculty and executives from the sponsoring companies on branding, mergers and acquisitions, entrepreneurial management, accounting, presentations, and business etiquette.

"[Our sponsors] benefit from helping to strengthen the pool of talented and diverse candidates from which they might hire in the future," says Kosir.

General Mills hired former LEAD student and resident advisor Carlos Demiranda last year following his graduation from the University.

Doors open once you participate in a LEAD program, says Demiranda, a resident advisor with the Carlson program in 2002 who earlier attended a LEAD program at the University of Texas-Austin. The native of San Antonio, Texas, chose Minnesota to pursue his finance and management information systems degree largely because of the people he met at the Carlson School.

"Any school that has a LEAD program is one that excels," says Demiranda, a distributing management associate at General Mills. "But the biggest difference between the program at Minnesota and others is there is a family atmosphere here."

To learn more about the LEAD program at the Carlson School of Management, see Summer Business Institute.

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